Film

Cheech Marin on the Benefits of Weed, Working With Robert De Niro & More

Comedy team Cheech and Chong, (L-R : Tommy Chong and Richard Cheech Marin)pose in their dressing room at Doug Weston's Troubadour on September 16, 1971 in Los Angeles (now West Hollywood), California. Photo by Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

As a child, actor and comedian Cheech Marin (Desperado, Tin Cup) remembers the time he spent with his grandfather fondly. Whether it was fishing with him in Baja California or taking rides in his truck, Marin’s “Grampy,” as he called him, was someone that created a lot of memories for him as a kid.

“He was the only grandfather I knew, and he was the best,” Marin, 74, tells Remezcla during a recent interview about his latest film The War with Grandpa. “He always had these ‘lemos’—these little lemon Lifesavers—in his pocket. If we did anything good, he would give us a lemo.”

With three grandchildren of his own, Marin was happy when the nickname he used for his grandfather carried on to him. “I wanted to keep that tradition going,” he said. “They like calling me Grampy because nobody else does.”

In The War with Grandpa, Oscar-winner Robert De Niro stars as Ed, a recently widowed man whose daughter Sally (Uma Thurman) convinces him to move into her house with her family, so he won’t be alone. Reluctantly, Ed moves in and is given his grandson’s room, which upset the young boy and spurs a series of pranks and other hijinks between the two. Marin and Oscar-winner Christopher Walken (The Deer Hunter) star as two of Ed’s good friends. They both join him in battle when he accepts a challenge to play his grandson and his young friends in a dodgeball match.

“It was really a thrill for me and a real joy to work with these icons,” Marin says. “The first scene we did together, we’re walking down the street and I’m talking, and I look over and think, ‘Robert De Niro is actually listening to me! This is the highlight of my life!’” Another highlight has been making memories for his grandchildren like his grandfather did for him. Although his grandkids live in another state, Marin said he always tries to make their visits extra special by introducing them to something they’ve never done before—like hit a piñata or fly a kite.

It was a real joy to work with these icons.

During our interview, Marin also tells us about comedy surviving cancel culture, how he’s handling quarantine and a couple of TV shows he wouldn’t mind getting some screen time on in the near future.

The War with Grandpa will be available on Digital HD from Amazon Video and iTunes on Dec. 15 and on DVD and Blu-ray Dec. 22.

So, how confident were you in your dodgeball-playing skills for this movie?

(Laughs) I played it as a kid, [but] I’m not as fast as I used to be. [In the movie], we used these big dodgeballs, so they wouldn’t kill you when they hit you. I played virtual golf the other day, and I take walks with my wife, but that’s about it. My regiment lately is to smoke weed all day and avoid all exercise. I think that’s really good for your health.

Speaking of which, did you see all the states that just voted on Election Day to legalize cannabis, even ultra-conservative ones like Montana and South Dakota?

Yeah, the benefits of marijuana, the medicinal side of it, hits every segment of society. I don’t care if you’re conservative or radical left or whatever, marijuana has gone through your hermetically sealed little cubical.

Actor Cheech Marin poses for a portrait during the 2012 NCLR ALMA Awards at Pasadena Civic Auditorium on September 16, 2012 in Pasadena, California. Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images

How has comedy changed over the last 40 years when you first started making movies?

You know, the thing I worry about going forward is that we’re going into this politically correct direction, which is the antithesis of being a comedian. Comedians are supposed to be politically incorrect. How do you inch it out there, so people get the humor and not get involved in the anger? All comedians are concerned about this. I hear it all the time. Stand-ups are right on the frontlines. There are no sets or other actors or a character they can hide behind. But I think comedy and humor are absolutely necessary as we move forward. It’s a very important part of our psyche.

Do you find yourself having to watch what you say these days?

I’m very careful about what I say, but I still want to say stuff. The other day, I was on a Zoom call with [Los Angeles Times writer] Gustavo Arellano and [cartoonist] Lalo Alcaraz. It was really cool because those guys are politically incorrect, so we weren’t even trying to get around the edges. I think the mezcal had something to do with it. It was nice that you could do it in a setting where people weren’t going to try to jump through the screen and cancel you.

I think comedy and humor are absolutely necessary as we move forward.

Have you embraced any of the changes over the years that younger comedians have, especially when it comes to having an online presence?

I think you have to because that’s the platform where everyone can see you. Tommy [Chong] and I were always on the road with Cheech & Chong. So, we’re just learning how to communicate with this new method. It has its advantages. There’s not a lot of back and forth. You lay it out there and people can dig it. If they don’t, you can mute them. But I look at social media as another job. As a Chicano, you have to have three jobs simultaneously. So, I don’t need a fourth and fifth job.

Actress Evelyn Guerrero and comedian Cheech Marin in a scene from their movie “Cheech And Chong’s Nice Dreams” which was released in 1982. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

How have you been handling the pandemic yourself?

[My wife and I] have been really quarantined. I’m in my 70s, so I wake up every day and I’m like, “I got COVID.” I coughed. I sneezed. I got COVID, and I’m dying. Until about 1 p.m. then I’m like, “OK, maybe I’m not dying. It’s allergies!” We have a house in the desert and that’s where we’ve been spending most of our time. Unless you can get COVID from coyotes, we’re not getting it.

Since you only knew one of your grandfathers, would you ever want to be on that show Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., so he can track down your family history?

I absolutely would like to do that. I’ve read a little about our family’s past history but not enough to satisfy me. You should call him and tell him to give me a call.

Well, speaking of popular TV shows you actually have been on, the world lost one of the greats a few weeks ago with the passing of Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek. I know your history with the show and that you were the first celebrity to win Celebrity Jeopardy! back in 1992. The show just announced that they’re going to continue with guest hosts for a while before they hire someone full time. If they decide to bring in a celebrity guest host, would you be interested in the job?

Absolutely! I grew up playing those games with my small group of cousins, who were highly academic. We used to play those games as far back as I can remember. I was dying to get on the show if they ever had celebrities. Then, that finally came true. There [are] two theories to [Jeopardy!]: You can either study everything or study nothing. How are you going to study for a category like, “Words with Three Rs” or “Potpourri?” I’ve come down on the side of studying nothing. But, yeah, it’s a wonderful game.